Some of us love to plan, while others prefer to fly by the seat of our pants.  But even if you feel like planning isn’t part of your DNA, it is an important skill that you can easily learn.

Here are some ways you can become a better planner: 

  1. Commit your goals to paper

When we have unfulfilled goals, they tend to bounce around in our minds, disrupt our thoughts and take up mental space. Studies have shown that the act of totally committing to our goals by creating a plan for them opens up cognitive resources.[1]In other words, once set your plan in place, you can move forward toward achieving those goals.  With a clear strategic plan on paper, you will be able to clear away the nagging guilt about unfulfilled goals that have been cluttering your mind.

Putting it into practice: Commit to a goal by putting pen to paper, then outlining the action steps you need to take to achieve it. Break down these steps into small, manageable tasks and then check the tasks off in a daily planner as you complete them. By taking the plans out of your head and putting them onto paper, you’ll keep a clearer head. By keeping a daily planner, you’ll be prompted to remember your action items.  By ticking off those action items one by one, you will become more productive, happier and more likely to hit your goals.

2. Give yourself a break

From time to time we all procrastinate when it comes to pursuing our goals. The best thing we can do when that happens is to give ourselves a break. Practicing self-compassion can prevent us from going into negative spiral.  It gives us the chance to re-charge and to help us persevere. Research has found that people who forgave themselves for procrastinating were less likely to procrastinate again in the future.[2]

Putting it into practice:Schedule some regular “me” time as a way of showing yourself appreciation and compassion. This time should be aimed at doing something that you love, that makes you feel good about yourself or that makes you feel energized. Set aside an hour or two each week to exercise, meditate, play a sport, journal or enjoythe outdoors. Scheduling this time into your strategic planwill ensure that you will be committed to caring for yourself.  You will be openly reminded to show yourself kindness.

3. Find intrinsic motivation

Making plans is one thing, but in order to achieve your goals you need to stick to them. That’s where having the right type of motivation is critical. Research consistently shows that intrinsic motivations (doing something that is personally rewarding to you) are stronger than external ones(doing something to earn a reward or avoid a punishment).[3] For example, a sense of purpose at work can be a more lasting motivator than the amount of money in the pay stub you collect each week. 

Putting it into practice: When making your plan, think about why following the planultimately matters to you. A great time to remind yourself about what motivates you is when you are defining your priorities each day.  This is a perfect opportunity for you to reflect and to set each priority according to your intrinsic motivations. By doing so, your planning will be guided toward what’s most important to you.

4. SeekHelp 

Sometimes the biggest obstacle to planning is simply the feeling of being overwhelmed. We often ask ourselves, “Why put in the effort to create a plan when the end goal seems so far away?”When these thoughts creep into your head, think about leveraging the skills of other people.  Seeking help is an important part of any strategic plan.

Putting it into practice: Think abouttasks in your plan that you can share with others.What action itemscan be done more effectively if you put together a team?Who can you work with to help bring your goals to completion?Outline these tasks, identify the appropriate people, form a communication strategy and then include all of this detail in your overall plan. You can use your planner to schedule monthly team meetings or weekly phone calls with the people you’ve identified to help you with your goal.

5. Take Time to Reflect

Regardless of whether things are going as planned or not, there are always lessons to be learned as you go along. Regular reflection is a significant — yet overlooked — part of any planning process. A recent study by the Harvard Business School found that people who took just 15 minutes to reflect on their workday increased their performance at the office by nearly 25 percent.[4]By scheduling in time for reflection, you not only have the chance to evaluate how your plans are going each step of the way, you also have the chance to use what you’ve learned to improve and adapt your strategy as you move forward.

Putting it into practice: Include a section for written reflection at regular intervals throughout your plan. For example, you can include a place in your planner for a weekly or monthly review that prompts you to reflect on what’sgoing well and what can be improved. Mental reflection is also helpful but actually writing down your thoughts helps to focus and reinforce them.  

——————————————————————————— Even if some strengths– like planning -don’t come naturally to you, you can still focus on improving them. Everyone can benefit from becoming a better planner.  By adding in some extra effort and using the right tools, laying out your plans and executing them will become easier than you ever imagine.

If after reading this, you’re thoroughly convinced that you could do with some career coaching in New Jersey, then Julie Han has got you covered. Whether you are reinventing your career, pursuing a significant goal or reentering the workforce, my successful experience and specialized expertise can help you set a plan and get you where you want to be. I help clients clarify their priorities and aspirations so they can make lasting changes for a happier, successful life. Simply visit https://juliehancoaching.com/ to get in touch and to learn more about the services I have to offer.


[1]Masicampo EJ, Baumeister RF. Consider it done! Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Oct;101(4):667-83. doi: 10.1037/a0024192. PubMed PMID: 21688924.

[2]Wohl, M. J. A., Pychyl, T. A., & Bennett, S. H. (2010). I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences, 48(7), 803-808.

[3]See Çınar, Orhan & Bektaş, Çetin & Aslan, Imran. (2011). A MOTIVATION STUDY ON THE EFFECTIVENESS OF INTRINSIC AND EXTRINSIC FACTORS. ECONOMICS AND MANAGEMENT.

[4]Di Stefano, Giada and Gino, Francesca and Pisano, Gary and Staats, Bradley R., Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection in Individual Learning (June 14, 2016). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 14-093; Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 14-093; HEC Paris Research Paper No. SPE-2016-1181.